A lot has changed since Neymar da Silva Santos Junior joined Barcelona in 2013 for a quite controversial fee that supposedly ranged anywhere from €57-€100 million depending on your source.
The Brazilian wonderkid struck a reserved figure during his presentation to the Camp Nou faithful, and through much of the 2013/14 campaign trying hard (and too hard at times) to fit into the tiki-taka system at Barcelona.
He also went to great lengths to make sure that everyone knew he meant every single word he said during his unveiling which was filled with adulation for Lionel Messi and assurances that he knew the Argentine was going to continue to be Barcelona’s go to man, and not him.
Progress hindered during debut season
While he may have meant everything he said, and won over even more Cules with his words, that mentality hindered his progress through much of his first season with the club to a certain degree.
Despite his second-fiddle mentality, he chipped in 15 goals and 15 assists across all competitions.
That he assisted as many goals as he scored gives an insight into the mind of a player who was more pre-occupied with fitting into a heavy pass oriented system and finding Messi every opportunity he got, than he was with personal development.
Potential Ballon d'Or winner
As one of the most talented youngsters in world football, Neymar has been tipped by many to win a Ballon d’Or on multiple over the course of his career.
His development at Barcelona was especially supposed to spearhead his campaign to become the world’s best in a few years.
However, his reserved form in his first season in Spain meant that he could only get as high as 5th spot in the final FIFA Ballon d’Or rankings despite a massively impressive World Cup outing.
Neymar looking confident
Fast forward to this point during the new campaign and Neymar is finally looking like the confident (if sometimes overconfident) yet deadly player that Barcelona acquired from Santos over a year ago (not that he wasn’t necessarily that player last season).
He has so far been able to contribute 24 goals in 24 appearances across the Champions League, the King’s Cup, and La Liga, and his four assists, while not a true reflection of his overall play, are a true reflection of his priority on the team.
While Neymar still fully realises that Messi is Barcelona’s main man, and should be for the foreseeable future, his adulation and friendship with the Argentine means that there is no tension between the two - and Messi certainly does not see him as a threat, and has been very accommodating of the Brazilian.
Neymar’s fine scoring form has been mostly due to the generous play of Messi, and with the confidence derived from goals, the Brazilian has also stepped it up with the flair which has been a joy to behold.
The blossoming partnership between Messi and Neymar is paying massive dividends for Barcelona just like Ronaldinho’s tutelage of Messi did for the club, and with the kind of form both players are in, Neymar’s bid to join the very best in the world could get a massive boost, even as far as a podium spot, as early as this season.
I realise it is still February and prizes aren’t handed out this early in the year, but at the pace Messi and Neymar are going, it would not be a wise move to bet against them occupying two of the three podium spots for the Ballon d’Or come end of the year.
This holds especially true when you consider the fact that the Copa America will be held in Chile this summer, which gives South American players and added edge (should they shine) in staking claim to the official best player in the world title.
With Brazil and Argentina going into the tournament as overwhelming favourites to win the tournament, Neymar and Messi should be able to milk the added value of the tournament should they guide their respective teams to the finals.
Barcelona at this point are the odds on favourite to win the Copa del Rey, and are starting to look like a really good value for the league title. The Champions League is a whole other story however, even though they are still in contention.
2015: Neymar's year?
You can’t help the feeling that the trophy haul for the season looks very promising for the Catalan side, which will only serve to further enhance the credentials of Neymar especially, as Messi is almost already guaranteed a podium spot for his ridiculous stats alone.
2015 is shaping up to become the true coming of age of Neymar, from one of the world’s most promising youngster’s to a major stronghold in European football.
Who will bet against him being on the podium come next January? I certainly wouldn’t.